The Magic Phrase That Would Stop War

“I don’t blame you one iota for feeling as you do. If I were you, I would undoubtedly feel just as you do.”

This is from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

He continues:

The only reason that you are not a rattlesnake is that your mother and father weren’t rattlesnakes. You deserve very little credit for being what you are, and remember the people who come to you irritated, bigoted, and unreasoning deserve very little discredit for being what they are. Feel sorry for the poor devils. Pity them. Sympathize with them. Say to yourself, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Three-fourths of the people you will ever meet are hungering and thirsting for sympathy. Give it to them and they will love you.

*

How can a society as advanced as ours remain so uncivilized? How can we be so content for hate to abound?

If we spent one tenth of the amount of time trying to understand other people as we do trying to reinforce ourselves, we would have a drastically different America. As it is, we are addicts—always chasing another hit of affirmation to make us feel okay and secure.

Some talk about civil war like it would be a good thing—like we could get the results of it without seeing our sons and daughters die. We think that’s possible because of the environment we’ve been raised in. Few who love ordering steaks would be willing to see the cow upside down in the slaughterhouse, its blood running on the floor like a river.

Imagine implying something so foolish as being willing to kill your neighbors when you’ve never even asked them why they feel the way they do.

Incidents of the war. A harvest of death, Gettysburg, PA. Dead Federal soldiers on battlefield. Negative by Timothy H. O’Sullivan. Positive by Alexander Gardner.

What if we sought growth as much as reinforcement? What if instead of denigrating those who see things differently, we listened to their story? What if in our zeal to do anything for our country we were bold enough to do the task we most dread—change our minds.

The problem is, understanding takes effort and time and we’re lazy and in a hurry. “You’re what’s wrong with our country” feels better and is faster than, “Thanks for sharing your perspective. Just so I can understand, can you explain this part? I haven’t heard that yet and would love to learn more.” Who has time for that?

*

America will never be uniform in its ideologies and policies. There will never be a day when all problems are solved. But there can be a day, and it could be as soon as tomorrow, when understanding fills our interactions, when sympathy is extended as a habit, and when we fight for service and brotherhood instead of fighting for our own way. The day could come when our rally cry is no longer “this is MY America” but “this is OUR America”—a day when we are most troubled, not that the world around us is changing, but that voices around us remain unheard. A day when, for the first time in our history, we truly see liberty and justice for all.

Our problem is widespread, but the only place change can happen is in the minds of individuals. Some of the most powerful and disarming words you could say are, “I may be wrong.” They are also some of the most truthful.

*

I’ll leave you with the often quoted but never worn out prayer attributed to St. Francis.

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

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